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The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

Hillary Brown Describes Next Generation Infrastructural Ecologies

April 21st, 2016 · No Comments · --Integrated Systems--, Energy, Transportation, Waste, Water

Hillary Brown, author of Next Generation Infrastructure: Principles for Post-Industrial Public Works is a founding Principal at New Civic Works and a Professor of Architecture at City College in New York. She is a Fellow of the Post-Carbon institute and serves on the National Research Council of the National Academies Board on Infrastructure and the Constructed Environment.  Her research focuses on highly connected, integrated systems that result in more cost-effective and resilient projects which are less environmentally damaging.

blog1The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure*
was thrilled to facilitate a series of important conversations with Hillary Brown highlighting
global examples of innovative, integrated multiple-use designs for infrastructure systems. Brown emphasized a few of the many reasons why we should think differently about our infrastructure investment strategies. Traditional “gray” systems are typically centralized as opposed to distributed and thus can be less resilient in the event of crises. Traditionally designed systems are often more carbon intensive and can be plagued by NIMBYism and other such controversies.

Brown suggests that we must develop new paradigms for infrastructure public works and utilities that are….

  • Multifaceted
  • Low carbon
  • Soft path (work with passive natural processes)
  • Community friendly
  • Adapted (i.e. are resilient and responsive to an unpredictable, changing world)

In Next Generation Infrastructure and in her Seattle and Portland talks, Brown calls our attention to several great examples of integrated systems that bridge silos, recognize interdependencies between energy, water, waste, and transportation, and capitalize on natural synergies. One example of a construction project with multimodal systems in mind comes from the Enneüs Heerma Bridge in Ijberg, (Netherlands) that allows for bicycle, tram and pedestrian traffic, and was also built with water, sewage and other public utilities in mind. Ijberg is a borough of Amsterdam built on a series of artificial islands, so the need to integrate these systems is especially important in order to limit undersea cables or other additional construction projects.


Enneüs Heerma Bridge in Ijberg (Amsterdam, Netherlands)

A more local example of integrated multipurpose public works comes from the Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco which serves as both a transit center and a public park, but was also constructed to allow for mixed-use urban development in the same facility.

A particularly impressive example of green, low impact, and (somewhat) closed loop systems comes from Hammarby Sjöstad in Stockholm, Sweden. This urban development along the Baltic Sea makes use of thermal power through a biogas recovery plant, features a constructed retention and filtration treatments for stormwater, and a strong municipal composting program that benefits agroforestry which in turn produces biofuels for the local combined heat and power plant!


Hammarby Sjöstad (Stockholm, Sweden)

Brown refers to these webs of association as “infrastructural ecologies” which she defines as “holistic system(s) of beneficial exchanges across multiple sectors to reduce collective system costs, improve performance and reduce environmental and social impacts.” The most effective infrastructural ecologies make use of multiple ecosystem services such as  water purification, waste digestion, biomass production, and etc.

Along these lines, and also quite inspiring, is the Métropole Organic Waste Recovery Center and Transfer Center in Lille, France which serves as a combination biogas recovery plant and transit fueling and transfer center. This facility is powered by biogas and conveniently houses biogas powered buses overnight.

RC Shooting

Sherbourne Common (Toronto Waterfront)

In Toronto, Canada, Sherbourne Common is a multiuse public waterfront park that has been combined with a wastewater treatment plant, handily solving some of the issues with gray infrastructure that often lead to NIMBYism by creating an attractively designed system that residents don’t mind living next to.

In the Bronx, NY, Croton Water Filtration Plant serves as a golf driving range and park. It has been constructed on top of a water treatment plant which exists mostly below-ground. And in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Wadi Hanifah is an urban river bioremediation facility that has been turned into a combination constructed wetland and attractive public park space. This unique facility uses a multi-stage bioremediation process that involves plants, algae, and fish to clean contaminated water and reduce organic pollution.

Wadi Hanifah (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)

Wadi Hanifah (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)

Using these examples, Brown illustrates the possibilities that can exist when we choose to think about large-scale public works projects outside the box of traditional architecture and engineering. Brown calls for a new paradigm in our thinking about these systems, and she provides evidence that this new paradigm may already be emerging on a global scale. The United States may be a step behind Europe and other parts of the world in developing innovative and creative approaches to solving infrastructure-based problems. Considering the dire need for infrastructure renewal in the US, now seems like the perfect time to re-invest in and re-imagine these aging systems for the 21st century.

To learn more about the above projects, read Hillary Brown’s Next Generation Infrastructure  and look for her forthcoming book which will delve further into these topics, or visit CSI’s event page to browse the PowerPoint slides from her Seattle talks.

*This event was also made possible by our partners at ULI Northwest, Oregon Metro, and the UW Masters of Infrastructure Planning and Management program.


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